Bend Parks District Moves Forward With Plans For Mirror Pond's Future

June 8, 2016
Bend Parks District Moves Forward With Plans For Mirror Pond's Future

The Bend Parks and Recreation Board has passed a memorandum of understanding about the future of Mirror Pond under new, potential private ownership of the Mirror Pond dam.

The non-binding MOU outlines future collaboration between the district and Mirror Pond Solutions, a corporation owned by local developer Bill Smith and construction company owner Todd Taylor.

Mirror Pond Solutions wants to lead negotiations with Pacific Power, owner and operator of Mirror Pond dam, and explore purchasing the structure.

“The intent of Mirror Pond Solutions was to preserve the pond — no more, no less,” said Taylor, during Tuesday’s board meeting.

The MOU sets up an agreement between the parks district and Mirror Pond Solutions and provides a rough outline for potential future phases of the project.
The first phase would be Mirror Pond Solutions negotiating with Pacific Power for purchase of the dam and the power generation facility.Next, the parks district would complete an environmental analysis for silt removal and any other design modifications at the pond.

Based on that analysis, the parks and the city of Bend would then move forward with modifications in the pond, including bank stabilization and habitat restoration.

The MOU does not specifically address modifications to the dam under potential new ownership. Neither does it discuss potential developments of the dam-side property currently owned by Pacific Power that could be part of negotiations with Mirror Pond Solutions.

Several community members expressed concern about the MOU, questioning the public’s involvement and notice in the development of the agreement.

“The board should be keeping the public in the loop,” said Bend resident David Paulson. “I suspect there’s a tremendous amount of undisclosed information. We’re just not seeing it, and no one’s getting that information.”

Discussions about the future of the dam would likely be private under nondisclosure agreements between Pacific Power and Mirror Pond Solutions (or any parties interested in property purchase).

Jason Rae of the Bend Paddle Trail Alliance said the MOU does not reflect the community vision for the Mirror Pond. That vision, developed in 2015 and supported by a majority of Bend’s community, called for a “hybrid approach” — keeping the pond, but replacing the dam with a series of features to allow for fish and possibly for recreational passage. The MOU makes no mention of dam removal.

“We find it very unfortunate that the proposal before the board tonight does not include the community vision, but rather another scenario incorrectly called the community vision,” said Rae.

Former parks and recreation board chair Dan Fishkin testified in support of the MOU, saying it offers an opportunity to spare taxpayer dollars. “Basically the private sector is stepping forward to do the heavy lifting,” said Fishkin, who was voted out of office last year. “It will preserve the pond with the continuity of the community vision.”

Board member Nathan Hovekamp expressed concern about the lack of public involvement in the process.

“I do respect Mirror Pond Solutions to be nimble and to move this forward,” said Hovekamp. But he also expressed concern that the new proposal doesn’t adequately reflect the community-supported vision for a new impoundment in place of the existing dam, one that would be porous and allow for flow.

“That doesn’t appear to be on the table much any more,” said Hovekamp. “We’re talking about hardening a dam or reconstructing a dam.”

Hovekamp and all the other board members ultimately voted in support of the MOU. Most board members agreed that it would allow the parks district to move forward with plans for improvements near the pond, but still grant flexibility about the future of the dam, given the lingering uncertainty about Pacific Power’s plans.

“Contrary to most belief, we are not in any contractual and/or negotiations with Pacific Power,” said Taylor, of Mirror Pond Solutions. He said the future of the dam is still in Pacific Power’s hands, and that the utility could decide to decommission the dam, to sell it, or to retain it for continued operations.

But he also suggested that Mirror Pond Solutions is waiting in the wings, depending on the utility’s decisions about how to move forward.

“We’re certainly interested, if the right opportunity presents itself, to step into an ownership position, based on the economics working,” Taylor said.

“This is not an MOU for those who like certainty,” said board member Ted Shoernburn. He pointed out that the agreement at least outlines what might happen with the project. “It’s too bad it’s the best thing we can do,” he said. “But in this world that we’re in this is really a good piece of work.”

Why Mirror Pond’s Future Is Uncertain
PacifiCorp announced in 2013 it wanted to retire its hydroelectric plant and transfer ownership of the leaky, 100-year-old Mirror Pond dam to another entity.

Both the city and the park and recreation district considered purchasing the dam, but both entities decided against it, given the costs and liabilities associated with the project.

A proposal to remove the dam and redevelop the waterfront received strong community support in 2015. That idea came from a Mirror Pond ad hoc committee — an entity charged with envisioning the future of Mirror Pond.

The group’s proposal called for dredging the silt-filled channel and replacing the dam with a series of pools and riffles to allow for fish passage but still maintain the pond.

But the committee’s work stagnated after negotiations with PacifiCorp to purchase the dam stalled.

In 2013, the land under Mirror Pond was purchased by developer Bill Smith and construction company head Todd Taylor. The 23 acres of river bottom had previously been owned by the McKay family for more than 100 years.

But whatever happens with dam, a bigger problem may be the silt accumulation behind the structure. The last time Mirror Pond was dredged was 1984, according to the parks district. Mirror Pond Solutions has pledged to fund the costs of sediment removal and also says it will contribute up to $250,000 toward a new fish ladder. The district estimates that 40,000 to 60,000 cubic yards of silt will need to be removed within the next decade.

The Memorandum of Understanding is non-binding.

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